An Unkindness of Ravens


This is a post about collective nouns, but first, some background information.

In the 20+ years that I have actively sought out and participated in therapy, I’ve had 1 therapist (a social worker) and 1 psychiatrist speculate that I may be bipolar. This would have been in the mid-1990s and early 2000s when, from what I understand, only 1 definition of bipolar disorder existed.

Not the greatest news, but I mention this as disclaimer — if not as an explanation — as to why I am fascinated (and, perhaps, obsessed) with collective nouns. Especially collective nouns related to birds. And because I teach college-level writing, I think it figures to be obsessed with grammar and mechanical related topics.

Wednesday’s Collective Noun:

An Unkindness of Ravens


FiggenTravel’s “Raven,” Hurricane Ridge, Olympic Mountains, Washington, 2009, Flickr,


Edgar Allen Poe. Alfred Hitchcock. Pablo Picasso. Me.

All of us hold a fondness for the blackbird. Some might argue Hitchcock and Picasso depicted crows, but this is my blog post, and I am sticking with ravens. So we (the four of us) have ravens in common.

[I suppose I probably shouldn’t lump myself in with Poe, Hitchcock, or Picasso…. It probably makes me sound like a narcissist. I don’t think I’m a narcissist…..]

Why is a flock of ravens called an unkindness, you may ask? [And why should I care, you might also be thinking…..]

An unkindness of ravens is just kind of apropos when struggling with depression. This collective noun, according to the Oxford Dictionaries blog, can be traced back to the 15th century, from Dame Juliana Barnes 1486 Book of St. Albans. Apparently, an unkindness of ravens “refers to an old legend that ravens push their young out of the nest to survive as best they can” (M. Quinion, 2001).

And then, of course, I think many share the belief that ravens are just kind of creepy (J. Welsh, 2011) because their “sharp behavior [seems to indicate] complex cognitive processes associated with human learning” (“Ravens”, PBS Nature, 2008). In other words, we’re frightened by ravens because they remind us so much of ourselves. [It figures.]

There are countless examples from other cultures and traditions on the symbolism and metaphor of the raven/blackbird. But it is the legend that ravens push their young out of the nest that resonates with me.

When I wake up in the morning and I’m already completely flattened, spent, and utterly hopeless feeling before the day begins, OR when I suddenly feel as if I’m having a heart attack and crushed under the weight of my own racing, panicked thoughts — I feel as if I am being pushed out of my own nest.

When depression or anxiety settles upon me, it is as if an unkindness of ravens flies home to roost in my mind.  And I am left to watch, powerless, from the ground, far below the nest.

Then the raucous birds take off, and I am allowed back in the nest, which is a mess — as is my life. And I am so ashamed because I am the only one to blame.


One thought on “An Unkindness of Ravens

  1. Pingback: Can These Broken Wings Learn to Fly? | a bliss of birds

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